A Framework for Learning: Investing in yourself for the long run


During the last nine years, I have been fortunate to work with and learn from some great teams at Zimbra, VMware and Yahoo!. Together, we built a >$50M business with 200,000 customers and 100 million users. In hindsight, our success was a result of four actions: building a business that leveraged a new go to market model, providing unprecedented transparency to our customers, investing in product innovation, and fostering a culture of learning. Additionally, we learned how to apply these actions in order to build a successful standalone business as well as when to best leverage the resources of a bigger company. As we began 2014, I decided to leave Zimbra and VMware and to look for the next opportunity for me to learn and to be part of building another successful business. As part of that transition, I wanted to explain my approach to life long learning and how it has impacted my plans for 2014.

Lifelong Learning

One of the foundations of my career and life has been that I always want to learn more. I should always be open to learning from new people, experiences and companies. The three parts of the foundation are: (1) pick a passion, (2) honestly evaluate yourself and (3) develop a plan in pencil.

(1) Pick A Passion

In order to grow and learn, we all need to pick a place to start. One of the most important pieces of advice I have given to my team members and the entrepreneurs that I have mentored, is to pick a passion that is important to you and immediately begin the process of learning. The most common response I get is, “I am passionate about a lot of things and I don’t know which passion is the most important.” My simple response is that learning is never a waste of time and the only mistake you can make is delaying a decision. As an example, during the early days at Zimbra, it always amazed me how Satish Dharmaraj would jump at any chance to learn and there was no topic that was off limits. His energy and excitment was electric and it impacted everyone across the organization.

(2) Honestly Evaluate Yourself

We all have different strengths and weaknesses but more importantly we have learned different skills and we have worked in different industries. It is critical that we be honest with ourselves and evaluate what we know and don’t know. We need to know when to learn and when to teach. We need to know when to listen and when to speak. One of the hardest parts of being honest with ourselves is collecting feedback, it is critical that we find friends, co-workers and bosses that will help you see any blindspots in your self assessment. I recently, sat down with an important mentor for me, Scott Dietzen, and he told me: (1) be patient with a job transition, (2) seek out places to learn something new, and (3) make sure you continue to prioritize the team you work with over anything else including title and salary.

(3) Develop a Plan in Pencil

With an understanding of your passions and an honest self assessment, it is time to build a plan. The plan should be realistic and should include short term actions (<90 days) and longer term goals. You should develop the plan in “pencil” and assume you can change it along the way as you learn more. In 2014, there are a lot of ways to learn via online services (TED, Khan Academy, Code Academy, etc), learning from social new channels (Twitter, blogs) and lastly you can learn from your co-workers and bosses. At the end of last year, I reviewed my plan with Peter Fenton and his advice was (1) make sure your plan has specific actions (2) avoid meetings where the view is better than the content and (3) focus on improving your base functional skills and not just leadership.

A Call to Action!

As we jump into the second quarter of 2014, now is the time to come up with a plan and commit to teaching yourself something new. In my case, I have spent the last twelve weeks at CodingDojo and beginning today I am joining Redpoint Ventures, as an EIR.

At Coding Dojo, I had had the opportunity to learn first hand some of the most important new technologies: Node.js, Ruby on Rails, PHP and JavaScript. Additionally, I have had the opportunity to work with the new developer ecosystem that includes GitHub, StackOverflow, Code Academy and more.

Working with the Redpoint team, will allow me to work every day with some of smartest people in technology sharing ideas and learning from each other. The Redpoint team and their portfolio companies represent the next wave of innovation in the consumer and enterprise markets.

I very excited about 2014 and I hope that by sharing my framework for learning that we can each take one step forward.